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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Unit for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Understanding How It Works

A person holding their other hand due to pain

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) provides individuals with a natural way to relieve chronic pains. The TENS unit for rheumatoid arthritis helps reduce pain in adults and their other discomforts. It works by sending low-voltage electrical impulses through electrodes placed on the skin. Thus, it stimulates the nerves to block pain signals, providing temporary pain relief. A TENS unit offers a convenient option for those looking to manage their arthritis pain without drugs. 

Daily living with rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging as it makes doing simple tasks difficult. It causes joint stiffness and tenderness, making it hard to move. While there is no cure for the condition, there are various treatment options to help manage the symptoms. One of these options is TENS therapy. This article will provide information on rheumatoid arthritis, how TENS can help, and how to use the device for pain management.

Understanding the Condition Before Using a TENS Unit for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It means that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, leading to joint function damage and joint deformity over time. Additionally, it causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, making it difficult to perform daily activities. While it may affect people of any age, it is more prevalent among older people.  

The severity and progression of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person. However, some patterns are common to people, including long remissions and developing conditions. For instance, the pain may recur and have periods with no symptoms that can last for months to years. 

A progressive condition is the worsening of the symptoms over time. Hence, it needs a long-term pain management plan to delay or control the pain. Doctors and physical therapists recommend a TENS unit for rheumatoid arthritis because of the beneficial improvements it offers. TENS is suitable for various chronic pain conditions, as it does not have long-term side effects. Individuals can use the device as often as necessary. 

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The common signs and indications of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Achy joints, limiting the range of motion. It is worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity. 
  • Swelling and inflammation in the joints, like knee joints, causing loss of function.
  • Fatigue and general weakness.
  • Rheumatoid nodules, which are firm lumps, develop under the skin near the joints.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • It typically affects small joints first, such as the fingers and toes, and extends to the hips and knees as the condition progresses. 
  • Symptoms occur on the same joints on both sides of the body.

Two iTENS small wings

How a TENS Unit for Rheumatoid Arthritis Works

A TENS unit for rheumatoid arthritis is a small, battery-operated device with electrode pads that attach to the skin. It works by activating the pain gate mechanism in the spinal cord and releasing endorphins. The device transmits electric currents to the nerve pathways that relay arthritis pain signals. This, in turn, blocks the transmission of these signals from reaching the brain, reducing pain.

Moreover, through motor-level stimulation, TENS can induce the production of endorphins. They are natural chemicals that have analgesic effects. They bind with opioid receptors to inhibit pain messages from reaching the brain. Therefore, it results in a significant reduction in pain intensity. The effects can also last for hours, making it ideal for arthritic pain.

Another way in which TENS can help is to improve blood circulation. The increased blood flow in the affected area reduces inflammation and promotes healing. Additionally, it relaxes the surrounding muscles and eases tension. However, it is important to consult a medical professional before using a TENS unit to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

Advantages Over Other Types of Relief

TENS therapy provides numerous advantages over other treatment methods. One of the main benefits is that it is a non-invasive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It does not involve incisions or penetrating the skin surface. Thus, it is more comfortable and does not leave any permanent marks.

Unlike pain medications or injections, it does not introduce chemicals into the body and, therefore, avoids potential side effects or complications. Furthermore, it provides localised pain relief. Users can use the TENS unit directly on the pain area, minimising harm to nearby body tissues. Lastly, it allows individuals to control the settings based on the intensity of pain.

A woman turning on a TENS device on her wrist

How to Use a TENS Unit for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Using a TENS unit for rheumatoid arthritis is easy. Individuals can follow the directions and start their pain relief immediately. Before use, ensure the skin is clean and dry before applying the pads. Next, place the electrode pads near the affected joint and turn on the TENS unit. The pads should stick firmly on the skin and do not come off easily. 

Once it is turned on, the device produces mild tingling or buzzing sensations. Individuals can adjust the electrical stimulation by setting the frequency, pulse duration, and intensity. Start with a low intensity and gradually increase to a comfortable level. The electrical pulses should feel strong but not overpowering. 

Additionally, set the treatment duration between 15 to 30 minutes. After the session, turn off the device and remove the pads. Some TENS units pre-set modes for rheumatoid arthritis and other types of arthritis or chronic conditions. Thus, individuals can select this option to start the treatment without adjusting the settings manually. Moreover, the timer feature can help prevent overusing the device. 

Pad Placement Guide

The ideal electrode placement for inflammatory arthritis is above and below the affected joints. Place the pads perpendicular to the muscle fibres and avoid putting them directly on the joints. In addition, the electrode placement may vary depending on the location of the pain. The pads should be one inch apart and should not overlap.

For pain in multiple areas, a person may use a dual-channel TENS unit for arthritis. Individuals may also use up to four sets of wireless TENS machines for simultaneous electrical nerve stimulation. However, some may focus on one area at a time for better arthritis pain relief. 


Using a TENS unit for rheumatoid arthritis is a safe and non-invasive way to reduce pain. It is a portable device that sends mild electrical currents to the affected area and provides immediate relief. Therefore, it can help reduce common symptoms of arthritis, such as joint swelling, tenderness, and pain. It works by stimulating the nerves to block pain signals and release endorphins. Hence, it can serve as a natural alternative to medication. 

Moreover, individuals can control the pulse settings based on what works best for them. Proper electrode placement also ensures the effectiveness of the therapy. Aside from relieving arthritic pain, TENS is also beneficial for muscular painactivity-induced pain, and neuropathic pain. However, it is important to note that TENS therapy does not cure the source of arthritic diseases or joint diseases. For people with chronic pain conditions, consulting with a medical professional can help in determining an appropriate treatment plan.

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